Tiger King

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Tiger King
Tiger King, Murder, Mayhem and Madness publicity image.jpg
Promotional poster
GenreTrue crime
Directed by
StarringJoe Exotic
Carole Baskin
Bhagavan Antle
John Finlay
Rick Kirkham
John Reinke
Kelci "Saff" Saffery
Jeff Lowe
Erik Cowie
Howard Baskin
Travis Maldonado
Dillon Passage
Tim Stark
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of episodes7 (+1 special)
Executive producer(s)
CinematographyDamien Drake
  • Doug Abel
  • Nicholas Biagetti
  • Dylan Hansen-Fliedner
  • Daniel Koehler
  • Geoffrey Richman
Running time41–48 minutes
Picture format4K (Ultra HD)
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseMarch 20 (2020-03-20) –
April 12, 2020 (2020-04-12)
External links

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness (titled onscreen as simply Tiger King) is a 2020 American true crime documentary miniseries about the life of zookeeper Joe Exotic.[1] It was released on Netflix on March 20, 2020.[2] The series focuses on the small but deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists such as Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, and collectors such as Exotic, whom Baskin accuses of abusing and exploiting wild animals. A special hosted by Joel McHale was released on April 12, 2020, with McHale interviewing several of the stars about Exotic and the series itself.

The series received positive reviews from critics, and according to Nielsen ratings, was watched by 34.3 million people over its first ten days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date.


Big cats, like this tiger seen at Florida's Big Cat Rescue in 2012 run by activist and conservationist Carole Baskin, cannot be ethically released to the wild and instead spend the rest of their lives in captivity.

The series explores the deeply interconnected society of big cat conservationists and collectors in America, and the private zoos and sanctuaries they have set up for these unusual and deadly animals. The primary subject is Joe Exotic, the eccentric owner of the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and his bitter years-long feud with Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.[3] Baskin presents herself as an animal rights activist whose mission is to provide a sanctuary for big cats raised in captivity, but Joe Exotic maintains that she is simply a rival zookeeper whose aim is to eliminate her competition. The two exchange threatening videos, legal allegations, protests, and targeted harassment campaigns, in which PETA and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service become involved. Joe Exotic goes so far as to allege that Baskin murdered her second husband Don Lewis, who has been missing since 1997.

Joe Exotic's personal life becomes a subject of interest, particularly his unofficial three-way same-sex marriage to Travis Maldonado and John Finlay and his subsequent relationships with them and future husband Dillon Passage. His 2016 run for President of the United States and 2018 run for Governor of Oklahoma are documented with the assistance of his campaign manager, Joshua Dial. Producer Rick Kirkham recounts the rise and fall of "Joe Exotic TV", a sort of podcast that Kirkham was hoping to develop into a TV series until his footage is mysteriously destroyed. The series then records the events leading up to Joe Exotic's conviction under federal murder-for-hire statutes when it comes to light that he paid a hitman to murder Baskin; his conviction also includes violations of the Lacey Act and Endangered Species Act, and results in a 22-year federal prison sentence.

Other characters from the exotic animal community are introduced, including Bhagavan Antle, an animal breeder accused of leading a personality cult; Mario Tabraue, a former drug lord who became a federal informant and is now involved in animal trafficking; Jeff Lowe, a Las Vegas playboy to whom Joe Exotic turns over his zoo for legal reasons; and James Garretson, who became a confidential informant for the federal government and a key figure in making the case against Joe Exotic. Former G.W. Zoo employees such as manager John Reinke and animal wrangler Kelci "Saff" Saffery conclude the series by commenting that the animals themselves were forgotten amongst all the interpersonal fighting, and that no party has truly come out victorious.[4]


No.TitleDirected byOriginal release date
1"Not Your Average Joe"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
2"Cult of Personality"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
3"The Secret"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
4"Playing with Fire"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
5"Make America Exotic Again"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
6"The Noble Thing to Do"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
7"Dethroned"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinMarch 20, 2020 (2020-03-20)
8"The Tiger King and I"Eric Goode & Rebecca ChaiklinApril 12, 2020 (2020-04-12)
Special after-show hosted by Joel McHale.



Critical response[edit]

On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the series holds an approval rating of 89% based on 75 reviews, with an average rating of 7.88/10. The site's critics consensus reads: "A bizarre true crime story you have to see to believe, Tiger King is a messy and captivating portrait of obsession gone terribly wrong."[5] On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews from mainstream publications, the series has an average score of 75 out of 100, based on 13 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[6]

Variety magazine's Caroline Framke called the series "messy yet compelling" and that for "those who love Netflix's particular flavor of true crime and docuseries, [...] Tiger King will undoubtedly scratch a particular itch."[7] Joshua Rivera at The Verge said that "[e]very minute of Tiger King yields some new surprise, an unbelievable turn or charismatic stranger with incredible stories to tell."[8]

Audience viewership[edit]

According to Nielsen, the series was watched by 34.3 million people over its first 10 days of release, ranking as one of Netflix's most successful releases to date.[9] It has been suggested that its viewership success was aided by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, which caused many global viewers to be restricted to their homes around the time of its release.[10] At their Q2 report meeting in July 2020, Netflix reported the series had been viewed by 64 million households over its first month of release.[11]

At an April press conference regarding the coronavirus, U.S. President Donald Trump was questioned about the possibility of pardoning the series' key subject, Joe Exotic.[12]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominee(s) Result Ref.
Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series Chris Smith, Fisher Stevens, Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin Pending [13]
Outstanding Directing for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin (for "Cult of Personality") Nominated
Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score) Mark Mothersbaugh, John Enroth and Albert Fox (for "Not Your Average Joe") Nominated
Outstanding Picture Editing for Nonfiction Programming Doug Abel, Nicholas Biagetti, Dylan Hansen-Fliedner, Geoffrey Richman and Daniel Kohler (for "Cult of Personality") Nominated
Outstanding Sound Editing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera) Ian Cymore, Rachel Wardell and Steve Griffen (for "Cult of Personality") Nominated
Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction or Reality Program (Single or Multi-Camera) Jose Araujo, Royce Sharp, Jack Neu and Ian Cymore (for "The Noble Thing to Do") Nominated

Response from those depicted[edit]


As a result of the show, multiple sportspeople who had previously owned exotic pets were questioned about their actions.[14] Retired boxer Mike Tyson said that he was "foolish" and "wrong" to have kept two tigers in his home in the 1990s.[15] Retired professional basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, who appears in the show saying he bought two tigers from Joe Exotic, said in an interview after the show's release that he had "never had any business dealings with him".[16]

Carole Baskin[edit]

As a result of Tiger King, several Internet memes targeted Carole Baskin for her speculated involvement in the disappearance of Don Lewis, her second husband.[17]

Carole Baskin and her husband felt betrayed by filmmakers, stating she was told the discussion of Joe Exotic and Baskin's missing husband were just for context.[18] In a post on the Big Cat Rescue website, Baskin said that the show "has a segment [in the third episode] devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago" and that the series "presents this without any regard for the truth".[19] Baskin has never been charged with anything related to Don's disappearance and has always denied having anything to do with it.[20] In partial response to Baskin, director Goode stated while he felt Baskin had the right intention, he questioned if "it was fair to keep these tigers in cages", adding that the tigers "pace neurotically" and that "Sometimes you wonder whether or not one should humanely euthanize these cats instead of [letting them] suffer in cages".[21] Baskin preemptively answered that "... our goal is to end having them in cages and have no need for a sanctuary like ours. Our federal bill, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, would stop the cub petting that drives the breeding and end ownership as pets in back yards."[21] Goode and Chaiklin said that Baskin "wasn't coerced" to answer questions about her husband.[22]

The Independent's Kathleen Walsh posited that the show’s treatment of, and the public reaction to, Baskin has been misogynistic: "The series provides example after example of Exotic's violence, cruelty, and narcissism, while the evidence against Baskin (compelling enough as it is framed in the series) is circumstantial. Maybe Baskin did kill her husband—and the third episode of the series is devoted to the evidence pointing to this conclusion—but so far there is little more than speculation to say that she did. Meanwhile, the series shows clips from Exotic's erstwhile YouTube series in which he poses alongside a blow-up doll, Baskin in effigy, shoving a dildo into its mouth and shooting it in the head."[23] Elle noted that Baskin was portrayed as hypocritical for keeping the tigers in captivity instead of releasing them without explaining that doing so was not an option—being captive-bred from mixed stock, as well as in-effect domesticated, meant they were unsuited to either survive in the wild or rebuild regional populations. Elle also noted that Baskin was the only source in the series explaining why keeping the wild animals was abusive.[24]

"Goode brings to Tiger King the intellectual rigor and social responsibility of ... a nightclub and hotel developer", Peter Frick-Wright, who had produced Cat People, a podcast series covering the American big-cat industry, wrote in Outside. He found the series particularly unfair to Baskin, pointing that in focusing on her husband's disappearance so much it failed to distinguish her from Exotic and Antle, barely mentioning that Big Cat Rescue only accepts tigers confiscated by law enforcement or from owners who could no longer handle them, owners who had to sign a contract with heavy financial penalties if they owned another big cat or were even photographed with one, a proviso not mentioned in the series. Baskin also forbids volunteers or staff from touching the animals; they are fired for doing so, Frick-Wright wrote. The series also minimized Baskin's efforts to lobby Congress for stricter legislation on animal trafficking.[25]

Kelci "Saff" Saffery[edit]

Hawaii-born Saffery, a veteran who served in both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, worked as a manager for Joe Exotic's Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park for almost ten years. In 2013, the then-27 year old was bitten by one of the tigers as he mistakenly put his arm into its cage, and opted to have an amputation of his left forearm and return to work within a week, instead of undergoing a two-year series of surgeries. He is hoping to get a prosthetic, as of March 2020.[26] In 2018, Saffery disconnected from the zoo and everyone involved.[27]

Following the release of the Netflix series, Robert Moor, the creator of an earlier podcast about Joe Exotic, posted a tweet stating "Saff, the person who got mauled by the tiger, told me repeatedly that he is trans, prefers to be called Saff, and uses he/him pronouns. So please do likewise."[28] Media outlets criticized the series for misgendering and deadnaming Saffery.[29][24][30] LGBTQ Nation contrasted Netflix's treatment of Saffery with their recent collaboration with GLAAD, an LGBTQ media watchdog group, on a campaign raising "transgender visibility in the entertainment industry".[31] Saffery clarified to Esquire,

On a daily basis, I am called 17 different things. I never really took it to heart. [...] [F]or context, my conversation with Rob was that he asked me, 'What do you prefer? Saff or Kelci?' And of course, I said Saff because that’s what I've been called for the past 20 years. I was in the Army prior to the park and they always use last names. So, Saff was my preferred name. And I've always gone by him since I could say that out loud. My family was always very supportive—it was never an issue.[28]

Regarding whether he identified as a trans man, Saffery stated to Out magazine, "I don't know that that describes me. You know, nothing was done. I really just have lived this lifestyle. And, you know, my family knows this. And obviously, people closest to me know. This is how I've lived my entire life. I don't know anything else."[29]

Subsequent media[edit]

A limited series adaptation is in development, headed by Universal Content Productions. It will be based on the second season of Wondery's Over My Dead Body podcast, with Kate McKinnon set to executive-produce and portray Carole Baskin. The series is expected to air on NBC, Peacock, and USA Network.[32][33]

On September 10, 2020, it was announced that a series titled Joe Exotic: Tigers, Lies and Cover-Up will premiere on September 27, 2020 on Investigation Discovery. It was also announced that a TV special titled Joe Exotic: Before He Was King will premiere on September 28, 2020.[34][35]

On April 8, 2020, Deadline Hollywood reported that Ryan Murphy is in talks to produce a film or limited series for Netflix with Rob Lowe starring as Joe Exotic.[36]

On May 4, 2020, Variety reported that Nicolas Cage had been cast to portray Exotic in an eight-episode television series based on a Texas Monthly article about Exotic. The series is produced by Imagine Entertainment and CBS Television Studios, and Dan Lagana will serve as writer, showrunner, and executive producer.[37] In September 2020, it was announced that the series had officially been picked up for development at Amazon Prime Video.[38] Kate McKinnon, also an executive producer, is set to play Carole Baskin.[39]


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External links[edit]